ROME — Pope Francis on Saturday expressed “sorrow” over the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, sending a telegram to Castro’s brother Raul, who took over the presidency of the island nation in 2008.
“Upon receiving the sad news of the death of your dear brother, His Excellency Mister Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, former president of the State Council and of the Government of the Republic of Cuba, I express my sentiments of sorrow to Your Excellency and other family members of the deceased dignitary, as well as to the people of this beloved nation,” the pontiff’s telegram reads.
“At the same time, I offer prayers to the Lord for his rest and I trust the whole Cuban people to the maternal intercession of our Lady of the Charity of El Cobre, patroness of this country,” he says.
Traditionally, the Holy See only sends out such telegrams of condolence only when a leader dies in office, although given the fact that Castro was in power for such a long span of time and had met three popes, it was widely expected the Vatican would make an exception in this case.
“El comandante,” as Castro was known, was educated by the Jesuits but often had a tense relationship with the Church.
For many years he banned public displays of religiosity, meaning that generations of Cubans grew up without a God. Although his government didn’t generally kill people for motives linked to faith, many priests and religious men and women were sent to exile.
The Vatican’s carefully crafted 9-line telegram avoided using words of support, going instead with strict formulas, hence showing closeness to those who are grieving but avoiding being seen as supportive of the Castro regime.
Not all global leaders took the same position.
Irish President Michael D. Higgins, for instance, issued a long statement, saying among other things, that “Fidel Castro will be remembered as a giant among global leaders.”
French President François Hollande instead, offered a more nuanced statement: “Fidel Castro was a figure of the 20th century. He incarnated the Cuban revolution, in the hopes that it aroused, then in the disillusionments it provoked.”